Update: This bill was signed into law on May 9, 2017.
Freedom of speech is fundamental to nearly every other freedom enjoyed in our country.
How the protections of the First Amendment play out on university campuses has been hotly debated recently — from controversial speaking engagements being cancelled, to student athletes facing backlash for taking a knee during the national anthem, to signs being ripped down on campuses, to numerous protests and counter-protests nationwide.
Legislation moving through the Tennessee General Assembly, the “Campus Free Speech Protection Act,” would strongly reinforce the guarantees of free speech and expression articulated in the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions, clarifying how those protections are implemented at our state’s public colleges and universities.
As amended, SB 723/HB 538, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Eddie Smith, would require state public education institutions to give students the “broadest possible latitude” to discuss issues, maintaining a marketplace of diverse ideas that does not attempt to shield people from free speech, restrict speech to particular areas of campus, or limit speakers who can be invited to campus, among other provisions.
The bill further states that the role of higher education institutions is not to shield people from free speech but to encourage students and faculty to make judgements about ideas for themselves — and when they oppose ideas to vigorously contest them rather than attempting to suppress them.
Urge your state senator to support strong free speech protections on Tennessee campuses.
Sample Message to Legislators
SUBJ: YES on SB 723
I am writing to urge your support for SB 723.
This legislation strongly reinforces the free speech protections found in the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions by clarifying how they should be implemented on university campuses in our state.
The policies suggested by this bill would allow for the broadest possible exchange of ideas, no matter the viewpoint. I support the free exchange of ideas.
Protecting robust dialogue from a variety of perspectives ensures that Tennessee students will learn how to be informed, engaged and critical thinkers – the kind of future leaders our state needs for continued growth and innovation.
Thank you for your consideration.